The Aftermath, and Prince Alexander of Battenberg, 1878-86
The relations between the Russians and the Bulgarians were better before the liberation of the latter by the former than after; this may seem unjust, because Bulgaria could never have freed herself so decisively and rapidly alone, and Russia was the only power in whose interest it was to free her from the Turks, and who could translate that interest so promptly into action; nevertheless, the laws controlling the relationships of states and nationalities being much the same as those which control the relationships of individuals, it was only to be expected. What so often happens in the relationships of individuals happened in those between Russia and Bulgaria. Russia naturally enough expected Bulgaria to be grateful for the really large amount of blood and treasure which its liberation had cost Russia, and, moreover, expected its gratitude to take the form of docility and a general acquiescence in all the suggestions and wishes expressed by its liberator. Bulgaria was no doubt deeply grateful, but never had the slightest intention of expressing its gratitude in the desired way; on the contrary, like most people who have regained a long-lost and unaccustomed freedom of action or been put under an obligation, it appeared touchy and jealous of its right to an independent judgement. It is often assumed by Russophobe writers that Russia wished and intended to make a Russian province of Bulgaria, but this is very unlikely; the geographical configuration of the Balkan peninsula would not lend itself to its incorporation in the Russian Empire, the existence between the two of the compact and vigorous national block of Rumania, a Latin race and then already an independent state, was an insurmountable obstacle, and, finally, it is quite possible for Russia to obtain possession or control of Constantinople without owning all the intervening littoral. That Russia should wish to have a controlling voice in the destinies of Bulgaria and in those of the whole peninsula was natural, and it was just as natural that Bulgaria should resent its pretensions. The eventual result of this, however, was that Bulgaria inevitably entered the sphere of Austrian and ultimately of German influence or rather calculation, a contingency probably not foreseen by its statesmen at the time, and whose full meaning, even if it had, would not have been grasped by them. The Bulgarians, whatever the origin and the ingredients of their nationality, are by language a purely Slavonic people; their ancestors were the pioneers of Slavonic civilization as expressed in its monuments of theological literature. Nevertheless, they have never been enthusiastic Pan-Slavists, any more than the Dutch have ever been ardent Pan-Germans; it is as unreasonable to expect such a thing of the one people as it is of the other. The Bulgarians indeed think themselves superior to the Slavs by reason of the warlike and glorious traditions of the Tartar tribe that gave them their name and infused the Asiatic element into their race, thus endowing them with greater stability, energy, and consistency than is possessed by purely Slav peoples. These latter, on the other hand, and notably the Serbians, for the same reason affect contempt for the mixture of blood and for what they consider the Mongol characteristics of the Bulgarians. What is certain is that between Bulgarians and Germans (including German Austrians and Magyars) there has never existed that elemental, ineradicable, and insurmountable antipathy which exists between German (and Magyar) and Slav wherever the two races are contiguous, from the Baltic to the Adriatic; nothing is more remarkable than the way in which the Bulgarian people has been flattered, studied, and courted in Austria-Hungary and Germany, during the last decade, to the detriment of the purely Slav Serb race with whom it is always compared. The reason is that with the growth of the Serb national movement, from 1903 onwards, Austria-Hungary and Germany felt an instinctive and perfectly well-justified fear of the Serb race, and sought to neutralize the possible effect of its growing power by any possible means. It is not too much to say, in summing up, that Russian influence, which had been growing stronger in Bulgaria up till 1877-8, has since been steadily on the decline; Germany and Austria-Hungary, who reduced Bulgaria to half the size that Count Ignatiyev had made it by the Treaty of San Stefano, reaped the benefit, especially the commercial benefit, of the war which Russia had waged. Intellectually, and especially as regards the replenishment and renovation of the Bulgarian language, which, in spite of numerous Turkish words introduced during the Ottoman rule, is essentially Slavonic both in substance and form, Russian influence was especially powerful, and has to a certain extent maintained itself. Economically, owing partly to geographical conditions, both the Danube and the main oriental railway linking Bulgaria directly with Budapest and Vienna, partly to the fact that Bulgaria's best customers for its cereals are in central and western Europe, the connexion between Bulgaria and Russia is infinitesimal. Politically, both Russia and Bulgaria aiming at the same thing, the possession of Constantinople and the hegemony of the Balkan peninsula, their relations were bound to be difficult. The first Bulgarian Parliament met in 1879 under trying conditions. Both Russian and Bulgarian hopes had been dashed by the Treaty of Berlin. Russian influence was still paramount, however, and the viceroy controlled the organization of the administration. An ultra-democratic constitution was arranged for, a fact obviously not conducive to the successful government of their country by the quite inexperienced Bulgarians. For a ruler recourse had inevitably to be had to the rabbit-warren of Germanic princes, who were still ingenuously considered neutral both in religion and in politics. The choice fell on Prince Alexander of Battenberg, nephew of the Empress of Russia, who had taken part in the campaign of the Russian army. Prince Alexander was conscientious, energetic, and enthusiastic, but he was no diplomat, and from the outset his honesty precluded his success. From the very first he failed to keep on good terms with Russia or its representatives, who at that time were still numerous in Bulgaria, while he was helpless to stem the ravages of parliamentary government. The Emperor Alexander III, who succeeded his father Alexander II in 1881, recommended him to insist on being made dictator, which he successfully did. But when he found that this only meant an increase of Russian influence he reverted to parliamentary government (in September 1883); this procedure discomfited the representatives of Russia, discredited him with the Emperor, and threw him back into the vortex of party warfare, from which he never extricated himself. Meanwhile the question of eastern Rumelia, or rather southern Bulgaria, still a Turkish province, began to loom. A vigorous agitation for the reunion of the two parts of the country had been going on for some time, and on September 18, 1885, the inhabitants of Philippopolis suddenly proclaimed the union under Prince Alexander, who solemnly announced his approval at Tirnovo and triumphantly entered their city on September 21. Russia frowned on this independence of spirit. Serbia, under King Milan, and instigated by Austria, inaugurated the policy which has so often been followed since, and claimed territorial compensation for Bulgaria's aggrandisement; it must be remembered that it was Bismarck who, by the Treaty of Berlin, had arbitrarily confined Serbia to its inadequate limits of those day. On November 13 King Milan declared war, and began to march on Sofia, which is not far from the Serbo-Bulgarian frontier. Prince Alexander, the bulk of whose army was on the Turkish frontier, boldly took up the challenge. On November 18 took place the battle of Slivnitsa, a small town about twenty miles north-west of Sofia, in which the Bulgarians were completely victorious. Prince Alexander, after hard fighting, took Pirot in Serbia on November 27, having refused King Milan's request for an armistice, and was marching on Nish, when Austria intervened, and threatened to send troops into Serbia unless fighting ceased. Bulgaria had to obey, and on March 3, 1886, a barren treaty of peace was imposed on the belligerents at Bucarest. Prince Alexander's position did not improve after this, indeed it would have needed a much more skilful navigator to steer through the many currents which eddied round him. A strong Russophile party formed itself in the army; on the night of August 21, 1886, some officers of this party, who were the most capable in the Bulgarian army, appeared at Sofia, forced Alexander to resign, and abducted him; they put him on board his yacht on the Danube and escorted him to the Russian town of Reni, in Bessarabia; telegraphic orders came from St. Petersburg, in answer to inquiries, that he could proceed with haste to western Europe, and on August 26 he found himself at Lemberg. But those who had carried out this _coup d'etat_ found that it was not at all popular in the country. A counter-revolution, headed by the statesman Stambulov, was immediately initiated, and on September 3 Prince Alexander reappeared in Sofia amidst tumultuous applause. Nevertheless his position was hopeless; the Emperor Alexander III forced him to abdicate, and on September 7, 1886, he left Bulgaria for good, to the regret of the majority of the people. He died in Austria, in 1893, in his thirty-seventh year. At his departure a regency was constituted, at the head of which was Stambulov.